CAGUAS, Puerto Rico, January 10, 2004 - USA won a berth for the Athens Olympic Games after edging Cuba in a five-set thriller at the NORCECA Men's Olympic Qualifier tournament 21-25, 25-18, 24-26, 25-22, 15-13 before about 2,500 fans.
Players from both teams coincided saying it was one of the best played matches in the history of the region with the performances of Cuba's Yasser Portuondo and USA's Clay Stanley seeing the match go into the fifth set.
In the tie-breaker, Cuba opened what appeared a solid gap at 8-4, but the Americans gained ground behind the effective attacks of Reid Priddy and Stanley and the blocking of Ryan Millar and Tom Hoff. The veteran setter Lloy Ball also was a factor.
In the closing moments of the fifth set Portuondo and Pavel Pimienta failed with their serves and the Americans got the ticket to Greece with a spike by Millar and a block by Hoff.
"It is an emotion impossible to describe," said USA captain Ball. "We played for six consecutive days and won all our matches, we also twice defeated two great teams in Cuba and Canada. It is a great honour to know that I can again represent my country in the Olympics."
"It was a great match but we could not finish well in the tie-breaker," said Roberto Garcia, the Cuban coach. "Those two serves we missed at the end cost us the final outcome."
"We accomplished our goal," said Doug Beal, the American coach. "The fans who came in today had the chance to watch one of the best Volley ball matches I have ever seen."
Priddy had 16 points for USA and Stanley added 15. Portuondo scored 25 for Cuba.
In the closing ceremony the organizers presented the awards to the best players of the tournament.
Best Service- Clayton Stanley (USA)
Best Attacker - Yasser Portuondo (CUB)
Best Blocker- Pavel Pimienta (CUB)
Best Defense- Lucas Snider (CAN)
Best Receiver- Gregorry Berrios (PUR)
Best Setter- Javier González (CUB)
Best Libero - Javier Brito (CUB)
Most Valuable Player- Tomas Alzabal (CUB)